"For the first couple of minutes of Rob Thorne’s Whaia Te Maramatanga, all that can be heard is a single note blown on the pukaea, a traditional Maori horn. Eventually a second horn joins and it’s as though a door has opened into a room one didn't know was there.
This album is full of such revelatory moments. A solo exploration of taonga puoro (traditional instruments), it’s about space as much as sound. The delicate tapping of a putatara (conch shell trumpet) resonates like footsteps in a cave. But busier pieces, particularly in the album’s second half, lead you into a prehistoric place fizzing with life forms.
Sometimes the whole thing feels like a lost instalment of Brian Eno’s ambient series. At other times it might be a field recording of the Earth sighing in its sleep."
... "As a person of this nation, though not a descendant of this land’s first caretakers, I feel a sense of loss knowing that the music scene, at least the mainstream, is diluted by products made in America and the knock-offs that emulate them when New Zealand has its own voice and a diverse musical heritage.
This is at least part of the reason why I have a great reverence for Rob Thorne’s Whāia te Māramatanga. This is both an album, and an art piece and as I see it, a celebration of this country’s cultural past. Performed in its entirety with Taonga pūoro, the traditional instruments of the Maori, it’s not like anything you’re going to hear on Juice TV. But there is more to music than making a quick buck by selling your image to the highest bidder.
These instruments hold more purpose than a flute or a guitar, which are only used to look cool (not so much the flute) and make noise. Taonga pūoro were used in antiquity as a conduit between our physical world and the spiritual. Like other parts of the Maori culture, the use of Taonga pūoro diminished as the missionaries introduced Christianity. The focus turned to hymn, and the importance of the spiritual waned.
In this stage of human development minds are starting to open again. People are beginning to understand the need for the spiritual world. For example, Mason Durie’s te Whare tapa wha Maori health model, something used in hospital settings today, places as much importance on Taha wairua (spiritual health) as it does Taha tinana (physical health).
I feel that this album addresses both worlds.
... There’s nothing quite like it out there.
Being instruments designed outside the scope of western music there are tonal peculiarities, little microtones, that we don't usually hear with an oboe or a flute perhaps. In the hands of Rob Thorne at least these instruments at times replicate the haunting tones of the kaikaranga when they hit that one note that makes the hair at the back of your neck stand up. The effect is the same.
... The soundtrack to a lucid astral-projection. A trip, which is how I imagine it must feel for Rob Thorne performing these pieces live. Breathing is an important part of meditation, so using that breath to play an instrument used to commune with the gods can't be anything else.
It’s not the kind of music where one picks a favourite song. At the end of the day, if you are stuck in a certain genre then you won’t appreciate the music, but you can still appreciate the intention, provided you have a mind to reflect.
Revitalized for today with modern recording techniques, this album brings the music of the past back into our hands, so it won't be forgotten in time.
On the most basic level this album is an attempt to bring the instruments of the past with the technology of the future. Above that would be Rob Thorne's experience learning to use these traditional, spiritual instruments and performing with them, which as well as entertaining us, must be enlightening for him.
" One deserving special attention is Maori-Pakeha Rob Thorne, who plays these instruments, even though his music cannot be labeled "traditional", for he has a rock background and uses electronics too...
The first outcome of this work is Whāia te Māramatanga (Rattle Records, 2013). This not only gives us a demonstration of what he can do, but also a good chance to get in touch with a music still virtually unknown in Europe. This is not, of course, the kind of music you can listen to when you take a shower or in convivial get-togethers. Only by listening to it on earphones, and even better in the dark, can one really capture its structure, apparently simple but actually articulate and complex. The CD contains three compositions: "Whāia Te Māramatanga", divided into eight parts, the short "Whakawhiti" and "Pursue Enlightenment Suite", divided into seven. Thorne's evocative music draws on ancient sounds, but he transforms and regenerates them. The New Zealand musician continues an ancient tradition and projects it into the twenty-first century.
Light years away from anything related to New Age music, the sounds in Whāia Te Māramatanga embrace the very essence of that fascinating and mysterious Polynesia where the endless sea joins the sky."
"While the likes of Richard Nunns and Hirini Melbourne were the taonga puoro revivalists, Rob is an innovator, moving it forward in new directions on Whaia Te Maramatanga."
"... a gentle evocation of the lapping tides, the furrows carved out of the wind, the nocturnal stirrings, the whirrings of wind-propelled wooden chimes, the gentle siren-call of cooing voices, hints of bird song too. It all makes for a soothing – though sometimes beautifully alarming, almost wonderfully unsettling – record of ambient soundscapes. It is Thorne’s through-composed actualisation of identity, a journey that goes deep, is sometimes dark, offering moodiness and a brooding beauty.
Thorne’s key compositional ingredient though is space – specifically breathing space, often in fact we hear (almost feel) hot breath in the spaces between the notes, in the shadows within the shapes.
And there’s something in this that conjures the traditional fife band sound – those eerie moments where the silence is punctuated, striking, but always thoughtful.
I’ve said many times before in reviewing Maori language albums that I’m lost when it comes to a translation but lost in the sound of it, swept up and moved by the beauty of the language; translation – ultimately – is irrelevant. And so it is with this album built with traditional Maori instruments, a different kind of voice, the voice of Taonga Puoro."
"Thorne has successfully re-imagined and reconstructed traditional Maori instrumental music for the 21st century."
"What a stellar start to 2014 for Rattle. The five star soundtracks White Lies (John Psathis) and Beyond The Edge (David Long) have finally made it to CD, the Brad Dutz Quartet’s Peripheral Hearing is an unlikely ensemble combination that adds depth to the label’s extensive jazz catalogue and now ‘‘shaman’’ Rob Thorne adds his voice to a growing list of ethnomusicologists experimenting with the sounds of traditional Maori instruments.
These three spacious, beautifully textured, almost ritualistic pieces – Whaia Te Maramatanga, Whakawhiti and Pursue Enlightenment – have been created using only various wind and percussion instruments and the whirling purerehua. What Jorge Reyes did for Mexican culture with pre-Hispanic instruments, Thorne is doing for tangata whenua – calling up their ancestors."
"There is beauty, a sense of solitude, as well as melancholic melodies, and overall this album seems as much a spiritual experience as a musical one.
Playing different traditional Maori instruments, Thorne uses a variety of techniques to create different tones and textures. The opening track Whakaaro is almost entirely just a single note, but there are moments when the note quivers in vibrato, or becomes thin, then returns with renewed vigour before several other notes enter in harmony in the background for the track’s climactic finish.
The track Spiral was the highlight of the album for me. There are moments where the tone of the instrumentation felt jarrin, yet about halfway through, there was a sense that the tension was relieved and the melody shifted to a mjaor chord tone idea.
Whāia Te Māramatanga is more than a recording of traditional Maori instruments. It is new works being created, new compositions being written and new territories being explored."
"Those with a greater understanding of Maori spirituality than me will doubtless get more from this gentle, frequently trance-inducing album of taonga puoro (traditional instruments) which evoke the natural world (wind, bird song) and disembodied voices..."
"breathing, spaciously placed notes and melodic lines hanging in the air... "
"ambient, often beautiful and spare music that exists beyond time as past and present join in a recording studio where these instruments and sounds are given new life for a different audience."
"... haunting, hushed, and works a treat late at night, when the clamour of the day has diminished"
“Sometimes, when you want to find the bleeding edge, as opposed to surging forwards, you have to look to the past... Rob Thorne casts a modern eye on stone, wood, shell and bone... Placing these ancient... sounds within a contemporary drone composition framework, he crafts meditative naturalistic soundworlds which reflect the beauty and splendour of the natural landscape of Aotearoa”